British forces seize Taliban boss of 'bomb alley'

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The Independent Online

British forces have captured a Taliban commander who was believed to have been involved in directing operations in a part of Helmand which has become known as "bomb alley".

The arrest of the senior insurgent along with two of his lieutenants is part of a counter-offensive against the bombing teams after more UK troops were killed and injured in Sangin in the last year than in any other part of the province.

Six air and artillery strikes have been carried out on militants after they were caught on aircraft cameras in the act of planting IEDs (improvised explosive devices), says the military.

The use of such attacks on those placing the bombs had decreased recently under the doctrine laid down by General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, to avoid casualties among civilians.

Afghans have complained that among those killed in Nato attacks were farmers mistaken for insurgents while working on their land. There had also been protests that air strikes on people handling IEDs have strayed, leading to the deaths of innocent people.

The Taliban leader accused of running IED teams was arrested in a raid at the Bulzay district of Sangin. A search of a compound where he was living unearthed Kalashnikov rifles and 60 kg of opium.

The insurgent commander’s location was discovered through intercepted Talib telephone calls and information supplied to the Afghan intelligence service NDS (National Directorate of Security) by, it is claimed, local villagers.

British forces insist that they try to avoid air attacks whenever possible, seeking to carry out arrests on the ground. In one incident, on 10 March 2010, two RAF Tornado GR4s were on a surveillance mission in an area of scrubland to the north of Nad-e-Ali when, using their targeting pods, which can track and take images at night as well as daytime, they identified four people digging at two locations close to routes used by Nato forces.

The Tornados were told not to fire but wait for the arrival of a platoon of Scots Guards who were on their way. The suspects took the opportunity to run into a compound inhabited by local families. The RAF planes kept watch to ensure they did not escape from the buildings and the men were arrested by the soldiers who subsequently arrived.

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